Geographies in Depth

How drones and data are changing India's farms

Farmers plant saplings in a rice field in Srinagar June 5, 2018.

Can exciting new technologies help Indian farmers double their income by 2022? Image: REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Sarita Nayyar
Managing Director; Chief Operating Officer, USA, World Economic Forum LLC
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Since its green revolution of the late 1960s, India has made great strides towards achieving food self-sufficiency by leveraging better technologies and agricultural methods. However, Indian farmers still face serious challenges, including a lack of better price realization, market information and knowledge, weak market linkages for their produce and inefficient supply chains. Realizing the urgent need to address these opportunities, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has shared his vision for doubling farmers’ income by 2022.

Technological innovations, especially emerging technologies driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, possess tremendous potential to meet Prime Minister Modi’s target. McKinsey estimates that technology-based applications and services in Indian agriculture can help unlock between $45 billion and $80 billion of economic impact and help 90 million farmers earn higher incomes. However, as the recent World Economic Forum Innovation with a Purpose report has shown, the food sector has been slow to harness the potential of disruptive technologies.

In spite of this, technological disruption is occurring in Indian agriculture. Innovative start-ups are disrupting existing models to not only improve smallholder farmers’ income, but to provide positive environmental and nutritional benefits.


For example, start-ups such as Skymet, Satsure and CropIn are using satellite imagery to provide better market information and hence better risk management in agriculture. Stellapps is the first dairy technology company in India that leverages the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and analytics to cover the entire value chain from milk production to farmer payments. Y-Cook uses differentiated processing that retains the freshness and nutrients of natural products for one year without any preservatives, additives or even refrigeration. Technology pioneers such as Microsoft, meanwhile, have partnered with research institute ICRISAT to launch an intelligent cloud pilot that has increased yields by 30%.

The Government of India has also launched several initiatives to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture. Initiatives such as the eNational Agriculture Market (eNAM) aim to act as virtual platforms through which millions of smallholder farmers can sell their produce, thus eliminating intermediaries from food value chains. Recently the Government has announced an Agriculture Grand Challenge to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship and created a ‘Fund of Funds’ to ensure entrepreneurs do not face a shortage of investment.

The World Economic Forum has also been at the forefront of shaping the development and application of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for the benefit of humanity. Realizing India’s potential to lead in and influence the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the World Economic Forum has now partnered with the Government of India to launch the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India in Mumbai.

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One of this new body’s key projects will focus on developing an agricultural drones and a data utility platform in the state of Maharashtra. This project will build on a six-year collaboration between the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative with the Government of Maharashtra in a flagship agriculture value chain partnership platform that has become a model for other states. The new data project will address key challenges in the digital and analytic agriculture ecosystem in Maharashtra to leverage technologies such as drones, IoT, and satellite imagery towards developing the drones and data utility platform. The project plans to conduct drone mapping of one or two entire districts in Maharashtra, the largest drone deployment ever conducted in India. It will also support the Government in developing a framework for addressing key policy and coordination issues related to the Government’s use of drones to meet agriculture needs, such as better market information and predictive pricing for smallholder farmers.

Technology alone might not solve all of India’s agriculture challenges - but in combination with increased private sector investment, the right incentives, governance frameworks and an enabling environment in which to scale innovations, we believe it could have a transformational impact that can positively impact India’s smallholder farmers.

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthFourth Industrial RevolutionIndustries in Depth
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